From Iceland — Who You Gonna Call? Gum Busters!

Who You Gonna Call? Gum Busters!

Published September 8, 2023

Who You Gonna Call? Gum Busters!
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Guðjón Óskarsson’s sanitation efforts keep Reykjavík gum-free

Marching the streets of Reykjavík armed with a contraption reminiscent of the Ghostbusters’ proton packs is Guðjón Óskarsson. Known to most people as “The Chewing Gum Guy,” Guðjón stands out among the parka-wearing crowd in his neon-green jacket, occupied with his work.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Citizen of the Year

Guðjón’s presence has reached an almost legendary status in downtown Reykjavík. “I have people come up to me all the time, both locals and tourists, asking me what the hell I’m doing,” he says. What most locals of course know, is that Guðjón is there to wash away chewing gum blobs stuck to the city’s promenades.

The contraption strapped to Guðjón’s back is a portable battery, powering up his gum-erasing wand, which sprays cleaning solution. “I manage to work non-stop for four hours,” Guðjón explains. “It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between gum and the nicotine pouches. They tend to get stuck in the brush,” he laments.

I knew there’d come a time when I needed a regular income again.

Starting the project in the early days of COVID, Guðjón experienced a bout of unemployment. “I was laid off at the hotel I was working at, like all other hotel employees. I knew there’d come a time when I needed a regular income again,” grins Guðjón. “I regularly went on walks when I identified the problem. I was appalled by the amount of gum on the streets.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Guðjón’s dedication to gum-busting led to him receiving the annual Reykjavík Citizen of the Year award in 2021. According to the numbers, back then he cleaned approximately 56.000 stains over 10 weeks.

A Town Without Gum

To raise awareness of the issue, Guðjón revived the project on July 1. Under the name “Klessulaus 101 Reykjavík” (Gum-free Reykjavík). The project’s inauguration ceremony included a host of notable persons lending their support to the cause, including President Guðni Jóhannesson himself.

Every night, my co-actors would ask me, ‘Guðjón, how many guests are here?’ They knew I would count the audience members.

Everything went well, except for the weather’s lack of cooperation. “It hadn’t rained as much in Reykjavík in 30 minutes as it did during the ceremony. It was astonishing,” comments Guðjón.

With the project, he set out to clean around 38.000 clumps of gum – all of which he manually counted.

“I’ve always had this thing with numbers,” Guðjón says. “I used to participate in an amateur theatre group back in the day. Every night, my co-actors would ask me, ‘Guðjón, how many guests are here?’ They knew I would count the audience members.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Gum-free future

Since starting in 2020, Guðjón has cleaned up approximately 190.000 stains, with 46.300 removed in 2023 alone.

For this season, Guðjón wanted to raise funds for the non-profit Umhyggja – an association for chronically ill children. People can pledge funds to the project in exchange for a gum-free street on the project’s website.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Although Guðjón confesses that things didn’t go according to plan, he is positive about the future. In addition to fundraising for a good cause, Guðjón had the goal of hiring additional cleaners to help with the efforts, which unfortunately did not materialise.

The cooling weather doesn’t seem to stop Reykjavík’s sole gum-buster. Despite Guðjón’s contract expiring at the end of October, he’s able to work well into the winter. In between his gum-cleaning operations, Guðjón also helps clean graffiti off buildings. “The goal is a gum-free downtown Reykjavík,” Guðjón smiles and encourages everyone to dispose of their gum in the bin.

You can track Guðjón’s progress at www.tyggjoidburt.is. You can also help the city become gum-free by donating to the project while raising funds for chronically ill children by way of Umhyggja.

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